Have Bitcoin, will travel
The Business Times
NEWLYWEDS Austin Craig and Beccy Bingham-Craig are sitting in a Wendy's outlet in Lavender Street, a long way from home in Provo, Utah. In the last three months, the travelling American couple have not directly spent a single red, government-backed cent to get here: they have paid for everything in Bitcoin, the virtual currency used by a few and understood by even fewer.
On Friday, in this corner of Singapore, the pair ended the final and 102nd day of their experiment called Life on Bitcoin, after having made pit stops in Berlin and Stockholm to meet fellow Bitcoiners.
In an interview on Thursday, Beccy told BT: "We've had people ask us, 'You've cheated, right?' But we haven't cheated at all."
The couple's experiment with Bitcoin - to be turned eventually into a documentary - started the day they returned to Utah from their honeymoon. To kick off the project, Beccy, who works with a data centre, converted her salary into Bitcoin.
The couple paid their landlord in it. He took some persuading to accept the currency, which is sent through the Internet - but not before taking a 10 per cent premium for his pains.
In their hometown, the couple persuaded a family-owned grocery store to take Bitcoin. To pay for petrol, they found a kindred Bitcoin spirit, an employee at a petrol station known to them only as Furb. They had to drive 80km from their home for the petrol, though.
Then came the time to start their travel. In the last three weeks, the couple have driven cross-country to New York City, from where they visited Stockholm, Berlin and then Singapore.
Austin said: "I was curious about how to become involved in Bitcoin because neither of us is a cryptographer, programmer or an economist. As a concept, Bitcoin is really interesting."
Their trip has been equal parts madcap and careful planning. Their flights and hotel accommodation were arranged though Simply Travel, an online travel agency that accepts Bitcoin.
But getting a meal in Stockholm proved challenging. They wandered the streets ravenous late at night, in search of a restaurant that would accept Bitcoin. At a Burger King outlet, they found their US-issued gift card - paid for with Bitcoin - useless.
Beccy said of the Burger King staff: "They were like, 'We don't even have a way to accept this'. We looked crazy."
Since arriving in Singapore last Sunday, they have eaten at two cafes that accept Bitcoin. One of them, Artistry Cafe, has been doing so since July.
Where a direct Bitcoin transaction with a merchant is not possible, the couple rely on a fraternity of Bitcoin enthusiasts. In Singapore, a Bitcoiner helped them buy a local prepaid data plan for their cellphone in the conventional way, and accepted compensation in Bitcoin.
Austin and Beccy found that for their project, buying a cellphone directly with Bitcoin was impossible. Austin said: "If a company is large...they say, 'We'll need to address that to corporate headquarters and that can take weeks or months or years if we can even get the conversation going'."
Even smaller businesses keep one wary eye on the vagaries of the Bitcoin world. Mr Prashant Somosundram, owner of Artistry Cafe, puts a per-head cap on bills settled in Bitcoin. He told BT: "I'm quite conscious that this is still very nascent and any small technical issues could wipe out everything."
Some time after the BT interview, a minor triumph was scored in Little India, where the couple convinced a henna tattoo artist to take Bitcoin as payment.
"Beccy is the happy new owner of a henna-tattooed arm," Austin told BT in an e-mail update.
Somewhere in Little India sits a mildly bemused owner of what might just be a piece of the future.